The Cost of the American Dream
Living in the shadow of NYC, 9/11 hits close to home. Literally.
I think this definitely is the one day where everyone can remember where he was and what he was doing when America was attacked on our own soil.
For me, I had just started my first teaching job and was probably in my second full week. I had a free period, and one of my juniors passed me in the hall and said,'Did you hear? A plane just flew into the Twin Towers!' It sounded like horrible news, but at that moment, I didn't know it was a terrorist attack. I wandered around the building trying to find out details, and someone had managed to get a live news feed into the auditorium on the big screen. Teachers with free periods wandered in; some other teachers brought their classes in ...the older students mostly. We were trying to get word about what happened.
We didn't know there was a second plane until we saw it - live- fly into the second Tower.
With a room full of high school students, we watched, in real time, the Towers fall. A collective gasp echoed through the room, and then there were no words as we watched the rest unfold.
As word came out there were planes also in Pennsylvania and DC, the pieces were put together that we were attacked. The United States. On our own soil. Who would do this?
I remember there were mad dashes of phone calls. Several of our students had parents who worked in NYC. No one could get word of what happened. We just tried to keep everyone calm. We prayed. A lot. This was unprecedented; no one knew what to do. How do you finish the school day after that? Just go back to grammar? Not exactly.
What I remember distinctly about that day was driving home. There was traffic on the Long Island Expressway (no surprise there), and as I was at a dead-stop on the highway, as I made eye-contact with the people around me, I knew our minds were all on the same thing. I would venture to guess that we were all glued to the radio, listening, waiting for news, not being able to tear ourselves from the horror we were first-hand experiencing. I just remember looking all around me, at all the hundreds of cars on the expressway with me, and I knew we all were thinking the same thing. There was a certain connection, a certain kinship, in that. Even though we were strangers, in our isolated cars, I felt like we were all in this together.
Attacked. What was next? Were we safe? What was going to happen to us? To America?
We live close enough to NYC that there was a ripple effect to suburbia. One of my co-worker's husband was part of the NYFD and a first responder. Was stuck in the city for days. My friend's brother worked in Manhattan and had to walk home to Brooklyn through the tunnel. The dad of kids in our school worked in the World Trade Center. He didn't make it. This tragedy hits close to home. When we remember 9/11, we really remember. We have pieces of steel remnants from the Towers erected in communities all across Long Island as memorials. Our moments of silence are filled with real names and real faces. The family who lost the dad? They were absent today; they always take the day off from school on 9/11.
My ticket stub from the top of the Trade Towers, 1998.
I read today that this year's senior class was in kindergarten on 9/11. They are the last class of kids who were in school when we were attacked. It's hard to believe that the kids in my classroom were toddlers and have no real recollection of the event - not any more than any other historical event they read about in their textbook...Pearl Harbor, Vietnam War, Berlin Wall, 9/11...just another historical event.
Twelve years have passed. But it doesn't feel like twelve years. I still can't bring myself to watch the documentaries.
Today, in my 11th grade English class, we talked about the American Dream. Compared to most of the world, our lives in America are the dream; what they would give to be in a country like ours - to have the opportunities we do. But 9/11 shows us that not everyone feels that way about America. It is painful when those from the outside oppose us and our American way of life. For all of our flaws, I believe that America (and Americans) has had mostly good intentions towards others and the rest of the world. And I think our involvement in the world is motivated (I hope. Maybe I'm naive) by our desire to spread good will and give freedom to others.